The Quilotoa area of Ecuador is a string of small villages, set amidst a gorgeous landscape of lush farms and rolling hills, that lies about 2 hours west of the town of Latacunga (between Quito and Baños). The centrepiece of the "Quilotoa Loop" is Laguna Quilotoa, a huge mountain lagoon that occupies an extinct volcano crater. The main village in the loop (for tourists, anyway) is Chugchilán, where I spent two nights, and from where I did a day's hiking.
Patrick and I discovered that the main way of getting out of the village of Chugchilán, is by catching a bus that heads for Latacunga — via the very poor road that goes through the village of Sigchos — and that leaves Chugchilán at 3am! We weren't too happy about it, but we had few other options — and it meant that we'd be back in Baños nice and early, without losing the day — so we took the graveyard-shift bus this morning. Not a fun ride at all: but hey, now we've done the full circuit of the Quilotoa Loop; and now we're back in Baños, in time to party all weekend long!
Last night was fairly quiet at the Cloud Forest Hostel. Only about 6 of us for dinner (including Patrick and myself), and not much else to speak of. But tonight, we had a massive crowd (most of which was YABFTG — yet another big French tour group), and an impressive traditional dance show, from a group of local little village girls. I guess that even here in Chugchilán, Friday night's a big one.
After our interesting hike to the cheese factory, today's hiking continued to be fun and scenic, even if not quite what we expected. By consulting the photocopied map that we'd been given, by the kind folks at the Cloud Forest Hostel, we figured that we needed to continue along the road that we'd been walking down, in order to reach the cloud forest. This turned out to be completely wrong. We did, however, eventually make it to the cloud forest. We think. Maybe. OK, perhaps not really.
For our second day in the Quilotoa Loop area, Patrick and I decided to do the popular hike from Chugchilán, to the "cheese factory" in the countryside nearby, and then on to the cloud forest. We had a great morning's walk, through a fairytale countryside of rolling hills and quaint little farms (although it was uphill most of the way). We were also blessed with great weather (not something to be taken for granted, here in Ecuador). However, the visit to the cheese factory turned out to be — well, somewhat different than expected! In short, it looked more like a house than a factory; and we saw little or no evidence of cheese, or of cheese-making, in the immediate vicinity.
Patrick and I arrived in the teeny (yet bizarrely touristy) village of Chugchilán this afternoon, after having been to see Laguna Quilotoa. We found the lovely Cloud Forest Hostel, which we checked into straightaway. I also joined in a game of volleyball, which was being played in the village's central square — by a mixture of local boys, and fellow gringo backpackers (mainly Dutch and French people). Had great fun, although all us tourists were no match for the locals (lucky that both teams had a nice even mix).
One of about three very nice, and very good value, lodgings in the tiny village of Chugchilán, on the Quilotoa Loop. The Cloud Forest Hostel is a place with a lot of character, with a lot of warmth, and with very nice rooms and facilities. The large amount of food that they give you is great — and it's also necessary, since there's virtually nowhere to go and eat in the village. I stayed here two nights, and I was very pleased that it was time well spent.
In my past few days in Ecuador, I've already started to experience something that I didn't experience elsewhere in my South American travels, and that I find extremely brash and insulting. For a million little things around here — for bus tickets, for set lunches, and even for bottles of water — Ecuadorians seem to believe in "special tourist prices". I had about three incidents, just today, where the seller quoted me one price, and then suddenly changed their mind and said: "hang on, actually it's $x more". And when I ask "why", they say: "well, the first price is only for locals — you're a tourist". Pr#$ks.
This afternoon, Patrick and I continued on from the village of Zumbahua, to the main attraction of the Quilotoa Loop area: Laguna Quilotoa. When we got to the lagoon, we admired the view from the top, and then we decided to complete the walk down into the valley (i.e. the ancient volcano crater) where the lagoon lies, and back up. It doesn't look like that big a walk — but it actually turned out to be quite a hike: took about ½ an hour to walk down, and another hour to return to the top. Beautiful place, with serenity abounding.
This morning, Patrick and I embarked upon our two-day sojourn from Baños, up to the Quilotoa Loop area. The "Quilotoa Loop" is a ring of road and villages that begins and ends at the town of Latacunga, which is about 2 hours north of Baños (by bus). The most important spots on the loop are: Laguna Quilotoa itself, a massive lagoon that sits inside an ancient volcano crater; and Chugchilán, a village north of the lagoon, with great day-hiking (or horse-riding, whatever floats ye' boat) in the area around. Our journey began with a bus up the nice highway, from Baños to Latacunga; and then another bus along the crazily winding mountain road, from Latacunga to the village of Zumbahua.